"Success to me now is how good it feels because it doesn't really matter what you're achieving if it doesn't feel good and that's how I measure things as they unfold. This is an incredible experience, but does it feel good and lean more into that." ~Aoife O’ Leary

Successful Musicians Podcast Episode 15


Interviewee: Aoife O’ Leary

Interviewer: Jason Tonioli


Hey, this is Jason Tonioli. I’m a piano player that grew up believing it wasn’t possible to earn a living and support a family with music. I’ve proven that idea was wrong, and I’ve met hundreds of other people who have found success with their music. This podcast features stories of musicians who have found their own personal version of success and fulfillment in both music and life. This podcast is meant to inspire musicians and help them believe in their abilities and motivate them to share their talents with others. This is the Successful Musicians Podcast. 



Jason: Welcome to the show today. We have Aoife O’ Leary from Dublin, Ireland. She is a musician. She has toured all over her states and all over Europe with her band. Recently, she’s been doing quite a bit of film composing and scoring a film, which is really exciting, and I think you even have a course film scoring that you’re working on right now as well. So, welcome to the show. So glad to have you here.

Aoife: Thank you so much. I’m so pleased to be here.

Jason: Awesome. Well, let’s move on and start out. So, rewind back the clock, how did you end up in the music business? As a kid, as you grow up, when you’re in kindergarten, you’re like, “hey, I want to be a musician? or how did this all get started for you?

Aoife: Probably, like most people who are in this world, it’s all I ever remember wanting to do. I remember being three years old, those kinds of things singing in for and dancing for any family. They appeared sort of 20 minutes from my house, and I’ve done enough for any strangers.

Then, I was the eldest, so as my brothers and my sister came along, we were all musical. Dads’ musical. My mom loves music. So, it was a really kind of noisy household as we got into our teens. We had a playroom. There was a drum set in it, a cello, a violin, guitars. And you come off the bus or walk around the corner and hear my house. It just kind of was…I loved it and I always have.

Growing up was tough times as well. And my friend really helps me and so after a while as I grew a little older, I started to sing in bands around Ireland and was a backing singer initially. And both live and session stuff.

But really, what I loved was louder music like heavier rock and electronic stuff and everything from Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, these kinds of things. That’s what I wanted to do. So, I set up my own band Moth Complex.

This is the band where we released a couple of albums, toured across the states in Europe and got to do amazing, amazing things. Yeah, that was kind of my world. Within Moth Complex, I had such frustration not being able to move faster. Like I’d have songs I want to complete, or things I wanted to do that I didn’t have the ability to do because I couldn’t produce and that just went on as Moth Complex ended, I was trying to do solo stuff, and nobody will treat your music as the priority you will, your kind of working with somebody else. They’ve always had other things doing and they’re always going to pitch in and always takes time and ultimately, I ended up just learning to produce and setting up Poppy Moth which is my production company to provide that service – production to people with no messing around so you could get your music produced so that it’s really competitive and it is sync-ready, and it is radio-ready. If that’s what you want.

Along the lines which I’ll talk about more in a few minutes, but I ended up falling into scoring and that’s where I am at the moment. I’m right in the middle of scoring a feature film and have started work or in the middle of working on a course for Intro to Scoring to help all the people who reached out to me and say “I’d love to do that, but I don’t know how, or I love to score but I don’t think I’m good enough. Do you need to have background and theory?

And with all of them, I just wanted to go, “No, do it!!” So, I’ve been documenting this whole process and turning it into a course so that other people get to do these things too because it’s totally possible and it’s amazing. So, yeah, that’s my life story, in the shortest I’ve ever told.

Jason: I love what you said about other people who will not prioritize your music as much as you do. I see it too often where musicians oftentimes or we’re guilty of being really artsy and fluffy and I think as you look at people who’ve made it and done really well in the industry, there’s typically a combination of both sides of the brain – a person who’s been willing to prioritize and dive in and learn their craft and not just learn how to play the guitar well, play the piano well, or sing well and those who are willing to dive in and learn to produce like you’ve done,

Now, you’re learning to work in the scoring, movie, TV and film tech stuff. That’s a big deal. It’s scary to a lot of people and I think that fear called the imposter syndrome keeps a lot of musicians away from their full potential.

I’m curious, traveling with the rock band. You look like this just warm, nice, soft, I can’t see you screaming like the Nine Inch Nails, so tell me more about that one.

Aoife: It happened. For many years, I still love that, and I do miss it to a degree. There is a bit of a punch to it.  We toured at the backs of vans, different tricks on tour where you shower on truck stops or when you got enough money, you could get a hotel room and that we’d all sleep in and that means we can all shower. There’s a bus, where you could not stretch out sleeping. I have to sleep with my knees bent, between the two wheels at the back of the van and it smelled fragrant.  We parked in Walmart carparks and so you go in there in the morning to their bathroom and brush your teeth, looking like hell.

Jason: You struggled through, and I think a lot of us if we’re honest with ourselves, getting ourselves to that point where achieving success, whatever the success is for you. What people don’t realize is what went into getting there. If you look back on your progress, nobody remembers the fact that you were sleeping in a Walmart parking lot on the bus, but I think that’s in a lot of ways still the emotion that we’re getting out of our music, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pulling on those experiences, and those feelings that you had, made your music all so much better.

Aoife: I think that music and so much of this world, this music world is all about feelings. The feeling of creating a song, the feeling of being in the zone of creativity or performance and it can be quite addictive and also it can be a thing where you get your validation externally. So, if you go do an incredible show and people tell you it’s great, you think that you did well, and then it didn’t land so well, it doesn’t feel so good and I don’t it doesn’t work poured my heart into a time, energy, effort and emotion, creativity, all of it into creating stuff that was released and barely made any kind of impression and other musician and what I used to do in the past was that every single time something didn’t work out according to my expectations or felt short, I felt smaller. I took it personally. I started to feel like a failure stacking those experiences and it really took a lot of introspection, training and time to start. This doesn’t sound fancy but for me to start to witness the patterns of my thoughts, when this happens when I do this and that makes me feel this way. The mechanics of my thinking and to really to kind of question maybe instead of going that way, I’ll go this way. does go in that way as well. So that was one of the things that really helped me and my expectations were so rigid and so high that even if something happened that was as good as what I wanted but was different, I still was disappointed. And so rather than kind of leave it doesn’t go this way, something was wrong. This is quite a shift. Now, I feel like well, let’s see how this goes. Let’s release this and see how this goes, see how it feels and look at what happened as a kind of result and doesn’t make anything wrong with me personally and the funny thing is, the more I have managed to let go, the more incredible the opportunity has shown up for me. I definitely think that there’s a correlation. But the more relaxed, the more I’m focused on just being happy, we are humans so we’re not always gonna be happy.

The more I can make the priorities that I’m enjoying my life, as much as possible and that I’m bringing much to my life, to other people as a result of I can, it is almost like life gives back to me.  It sounds so cheesy and corny, but the other way, if I’m unhappy, cranky, difficult to be around and all this stuff… Lots of much fun. Yeah.

Jason: If you were able to rewind the clock and go backwards, and if you can give yourself some advice to somebody coming into this music industry.

Also, what have you found the successes and what would you describe that to that person who’s just coming in when they need to think about as well?

Aoife: When you asked me that, the first thing that popped into my mind was I will give me a huge hug and go, you are doing great. Relax and enjoy it.

I was really afraid, basically, because deep, deep down, I didn’t feel that I’m good enough as a person and I love doing these things partly because of the fun of doing them. Partly trying to prove that I was worth something in the world.

Well, I would give myself a hug and I would say you’re doing great, relax and enjoy it.

Success to me now is how good it feels because it doesn’t really matter what you’re achieving if it doesn’t feel good and that’s how I measure things as they unfold. This is an incredible experience, but does it feel good and lean more into that.

Growth and expansion are really important to me.  Now, I know the essence of what I want to do and what I want to create. I want to continue the creation and I want to connect with amazing people. I love collaborating with people who are the same way. It’s so good. And I want to make loads more music and I want to score more films. I want to create Intro to Scoring and I am there helping people and the nuts and bolts in details and specifics of that, I don’t care, however it actually unfolds or whatever the specific seminar, that’s not my business.

Jason: As you’re describing that success, one thing that I find really interesting that you mentioned that once you were worried about what other people were going to think about your music, about you as a person and I think that’s a fantastic reminder of looking for that external, and we talked about earlier you’re looking felt good to have somebody tell you, you were great, but because as you look back you mature as a musician and as a person, all of a sudden that validation of how many people liked me and think I’m cool, it doesn’t really matter.

Aoife: And also, it’s never enough. You know? How many people likes on an Instagram post or how many people are enough followers on. When it comes back to am I being true to myself and am I being the best I feel like I can be in this moment with what I’m doing in contributing in the best way possible. And then, the rest of that is out of my hands and it’s just such a relief and not trying to be in trouble. It’s hard, you know what people say, not nice things… It’s not necessarily pleasant. But what I learned is that there was a time when I was in my late teens where I was too scared to sing, I’m just so insecure. I was so afraid. What if people didn’t like it. Until I did everything I could to be around bands – I put on gigs, I did PR for gigs supporting the gigs of my brothers and sister, my boyfriend’s band and it was brilliant to be a side stage supporting them. But when I actually had the courage to do it myself, nothing that I did previously felt like that as if it’s worthless, like there’s nothing like actually taking us down facing your fears and doing what you really want to and any criticism that comes up is worth this. We’ve brought it on. I’m not doing it at all.

Jason: It’s so sad how many talented people really just never have the guts to go for it and step up and swing. You really are so much better. They don’t realize how good they are sometimes.

Aoife: I see that. Currently, I’m scoring a feature film and so I’ve had so many people when I’ve spoken about that in music groups that have been musicians who I would think are way more capable for this than I am or was when I took it on at least.

My belief is that showing up and like I’ve got I’m taking these actions and I’m putting this out there and I’m doing this work and when an opportunity comes to me, even if it feels bigger than I’m capable of, I brought it in, so I’m a match to it. So, when I was asked to score a film, I didn’t think I was able to, but I still said yes and figured it out. Because I had 10 minutes up, 10 minutes of panic, screaming and jumping around with excitement, then No, no, no, I can’t do this and then thinking, Okay, grab a hold of yourself right now. What if I could? What choices would I make? If I’m gonna say yes then I’m gonna do this. What would I need to bring in to help support me and that put me on a different trajectory. So, I suppose, especially within churches, that’s what I really want to be able to do for other people – to help them know, not just believe but like to go I could do this too. The world really needs good people with massive creativity to bring goodness.

Jason: A lot of times people think they have to do everything themselves. And I think there’s this fine balance of people saying well, I don’t want to do any of that. And then being too scared to try. Got to become a little bit of a jack of all trades and understand that even if you’re never going to be filming behind the camera, understanding what’s going through that producer or the director or whoever’s the actor even, what’s going through the set is you’re trying to support that person. As a musician, looking through their eyes can make a huge impact.

And then also, you got asked to this score, just below step back. So, I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this, but I can find somebody who can do that and find somebody who can teach me how to do this thing and this thing and being willing to admit that you don’t know everything goes a long, long way.

But not being so afraid. And I do see some people that are always sometimes too afraid to even try.

It’s interesting to see what you can actually accomplish if you’re willing to step back and say I can do this. A lot of things in the business world. A lot of the courses, if you’ve been through trainings, they’ll tell you the fluffy hey, let’s hold hands and we believe we need to believe and then we can do this and I used to drive me a little bit crazy sometimes when you go into a course and just like give me the means to teach me the thing, but telling me to believe in myself. I think, as I look back on many of the successes I’ve had, the most important part wasn’t necessarily knowing how to be the one or two little things that they taught, it was instilling in yourself that I believed that I could so that when I had a block or challenge, I was like okay, I got this. I believe I can power through this. And then the little tools that you’ve maybe learned in the courses or the score or whatever it was, it could be put into place, but I just think it might lack that belief in yourself, you never even step up.

Aoife: And the thing is as well, just because you decide to go for something, doesn’t mean it stops being scary. I don’t remember saying this, but my friend said to me the other day, that I said to her a few weeks ago there’s so much crying in scoring because there was a week where I was finding it really hard. And I don’t remember that sometimes you say that was kind of a remote milestone so obviously, I got past it. But she had said that to me and the thing is, it’s gonna feel uncomfortable. Sometimes we think those kinds of jittery feelings are a little bit of nerves and stomach, we can call that anxiety or fear and want to run from it or is it kind of lean into it and go, Whoa, I’m feeling a lot right now.

Just keep going. Just keep going and also find the fun and it’s such a privilege that we get to be the people who are musical I mean, what a bloody plus thing.

Jason: You’re talking about the film scoring and then not knowing how to do it. One of the very favorite things that I do is whitewater kayaking, whitewater rafting. If you’ve ever been down a really crazy river ,it’s like the really boring floats. If you’ve ever been on top of the really crazy rapid. If you think about it, that’s very similar to any job where you’re uncomfortable or take a score.

And what I’ve learned with the river might only be one place you can go through but usually that water, it’s finding its way through a dozen little paths, through the rocks, through the crazy waterfall that it might be going through. And I think, as you step into those situations, if you’ll take it one little bit at a time, you just break it down into a couple of paddles one little move and then you’re gonna come behind this rock and then instead of looking at the entire thing, and this is 100 meters of crazy rocks that particularly hit off and I could die, if you just bite in a little bit at a time, all of a sudden that craziness  becomes more beatable.

My piano teacher used to tell me how to eat an elephant, one bite at a time when you’d have these crazy piano pieces that I never thought I could play.

Aoife: Then, somebody said to me, when you’re in a community things are never that hard because people help each other. And I have found that to be so true.

Jason: The music community, for the most part, people are so good that they want to see somebody succeed and whatever it is they’re wanting to do so.

Great conversation here. As you’re trying to get more advice to those people in the film scoring, we’ve talked a little bit about, you know, the fact that they can do, what is the type of musician, you would say is the prime person that really shouldn’t be considering film scoring?

There are tons of different types of musicians. What would you say is one of the biggest needs for types of music out there?

Aoife: Oh, if I’m honest, I’m just beginning this as well. But I would say, everybody because if you think of the types of movies and TV shows and everything that’s being made, there is a whole world of creativity and different types of projects, meeting different types of music. So, I feel like it is wide open.

Personally, scoring was not on my radar because I’m not classically trained. I don’t have a music theory background and the worst guitars in the world, but music is everything. And I have had, this is really important that I’ve had a relationship or working relationship with people over many years where now that I look back, without even intending to, I was showing up in a way where they felt they could trust me because I got back to them when I said I would, I provided when I say I would, I was dependable so all that stuff is really essential and being that sort of person.

Your project is always going to be most important to you. Whereas if you’re creating a film project, you don’t want to work with people who are of service to what’s best for film or the TV show or whatever. And so, if you can prove yourself to be that, if you can be able to have the skill and the ability that shows you take your craft seriously, the approach to working with people that shows they’re dependable and reliable and you’ll go the extra mile for whatever somebody needs, the enthusiasm for it, would you hire somebody like that, because I would.

In all these kinds of different pieces and places, at that point in time, say, a director approached me a few years later, wanting music that had piano and female vocals. Now, I could do that now, but I couldn’t then I said to him, I can’t give you that, but I know who can so let me come back to you and I connected him with somebody who happened to be my sister and her music was placed in a movie and she actually was commissioned to create something original for it too.

I didn’t know it at the time. But then I was making myself the person you go to when you need help with something and that has turned into scoring a film down the road. So, it’s all those little bits and pieces. I think that’s more to do with your heart because if I need that cello in a scene and I can’t do that, but I can definitely find somebody who can so that’s where community comes in as well. So, it all kind of falls into place.

Jason: Great words of advice. There’s more opportunity in TV and film than there’s ever been ever in the history of, with all of the Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon and every other network trying to do film, some TV shows, there’s so much opportunity out there and that’s a great time to be a musician for sure.

Aoife: Yes, absolutely.

Jason: Aoife, it has been super fun. I know we can keep on talking but we’re running out of time but for those that want to check out and find out more about you, the show notes your names, about as hard to start spelling as my last name. So, it’s AOIFE, a very Irish name right there, right.

For those that want to check out the course that you’re going to be coming out with, it’s IntrotoScoring.com, I believe. And for those that want to check out the rock of the metal Rock Band version, where can they go to find those?

That’s mothcomplex.com. Moths like butterfly and complex and then poppymoth.com. Poppy is like the flower and there’s loads of things, basically public interest scoring, and also because we’ve talked a lot about mindset and reframing of those things. So, if they’re not familiar to people and they want to learn more they can go to poppymoth.com/mindset and I have a resource there that would be helpful.

Jason: Thank you so much. That’s a really awesome interview. I think it’s really interesting to talk to people when they’re on their journey. And maybe not super established but kind of in that journey. This has been helpful for a lot of people today and I appreciate your time to chat with me.

Aoife: Complete pleasure.

Jason: Awesome, thanks so much, Aoife.

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 Finding success and fulfillment in the music industry is possible. Looking forward to seeing you in our next episode

How to Connect with the Featured Guest:

Aoife O’Leary,  Aoife (pronounced “EE’fa”) is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer and founder of PoppyMoth Productions – a one-stop music production company for music, film, TV, games and session services. Aoife created 3 songs for the movie, Code Name Banshee, starring Antonio Banderas and Jaime King, including Banshee, for the end credits.

She is also the female vocalist of the band Moth Complex. It combines bruising rock with off-kilter electronics – all underlying singer, Aoife O’Leary’s powerful and gentle vocals.The band was featured as “Best Unsigned Band” in major genre-based European magazines and had been touring extensively across the States and playing shows at the infamous Viper Room and The Roxy on LA’s legendary Sunset Strip.

What You’ll Learn

In this episode, Aoife shares her story on how she landed on scoring a film. She also shared some tips on how to face your fears and overcome anxiety to accomplish your goals.

Things We Discussed

Moth ComplexAoife’s band

Poppy MothAoife’s production company

Intro to Scoring – a comprehensive course to uncover all you need to know to break in to the exciting world of scoring music for media

Connect with Aoife O’ Leary








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